You may have noticed that the price of eggs has gone up. That’s partially due to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza epidemic that decimated poultry farms across 15 U.S. states this spring. The death toll from the flu and culling has surged to over 48 million birds. The bulk were egg-laying hens, many concentrated in massive Iowa farms. One farm lost a staggering 5 million animals. Which made me wonder — has big poultry finally gotten too big for its own good?

Michael Greger, director of public health and agriculture for the Humane Society for the United States, told me that big chicken houses are particularly vulnerable to disease. Greger singled out the caged laying-hen operations where chickens are densely stacked on top of each other as a particularly effective disease incubator. “We overcrowd millions of birds in these buildings. You stuff someone in an elevator and they sneeze, and it’s common sense why these things spread like wildfire. Migratory birds provide the fuse, and these factory farms are the explosive. So you have to get rid of these factory-farm powder kegs.”

Greger thinks we should be more concerned with the health risk the avian flu virus poses to humans: “This is a virus that we know has the capacity to jump from birds to people. This is not a virus to mess with, when all we’re hearing is about the economic implications. We have to realize that influenza is the last great plague of humankind and the only known pathogen capable to infect millions of people in a few months.”